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WSU lab joins network identifying new pathogens

Illustration of Coronavirus Covid-19 new variant mutation.
Coronavirus Covid-19 new variant mutation. Covid pandemic, 3d illustration.

The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) is now part of a national network of labs dedicated to controlling novel microbial threats.

The new network, known as the Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence, is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advanced Molecular Detection program. The program was created to help states and local jurisdictions more effectively detect, understand, and prevent the spread of disease-causing pathogens, including new COVID-19 variants.

“As we’ve all learned from COVID-19, viruses are constantly changing,” WADDL Director Kevin Snekvik said. “This new program firmly puts us in a position to better protect human and animal health by focusing on substantially reducing the time required to perform genetic sequencing and epidemiological interpretation of the latest disease-causing pathogens.”

Snekvik said a unified bioinformatics database for labs analyzing and sequencing genetic data, as well as an integrated network of skilled analysts nationwide, will provide much-needed consistency among partner labs.

Created by a $1.7 billion investment from the Biden administration, the Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence includes five principal investigators: the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, and the Washington State Department of Health.

Partnerships between the Washington State Department of Health, WADDL, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, the University of Washington, and Seattle and King County public health departments, will provide pathogen detection and sequencing for much of the western United States. Outside of Washington, Minnesota’s partner labs are the only others located west of the Mississippi River.

WADDL – housed in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine – will provide a key veterinary component to the lab network. 

From left, Alli Black, program lead of the Washington Dept. of Health’s molecular epidemiology program and co-director of the Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence, Becca Wolking, manager of the WADDL Molecular Diagnostics / Whole Genome Sequencing Laboratory, Kevin Snekvik, executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL), Brandi Torrevillas, a whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics scientific assistant, and Philip Dykema, bioinformatics coordinator for the Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence, pose for a photo in a genome sequencing laboratory on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

“We bring an animal-health piece that is critical when exploring these viruses.” Snekvik said.

Over the next five years, the lab is projected to receive approximately $250,000 per year to support new infrastructure for sequencing and fund positions which will conduct sequencing and bioinformatic analyses.

Snekvik said funding may be increased if greater sequencing capacity is needed to address an emerging infectious disease outbreak. He said the new network will also further strengthen a relationship with the Washington State Department of Health and other partners in the state.

“One of our long-term goals is to integrate public health along with our other training we provide,” Snekvik said. “This new network allows us to do that and work with partners that could lead to additional research and surveillance opportunities.”

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